New in theaters

'The Spiderwick Chronicles' is a worthy addition to the overrun fantasy genre, 'The Year My Parents Went on Vacation' traces political turmoil in Brazil through the eyes of a soccer-crazed kid.

New in theaters The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (NR)

Director: Cao Hamburger. With Michel Joelsas, Germano Haiut. (103 min.) "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" is set in Brazil in 1970 – a time when the country was still reeling from the military dictatorship that staged a coup six years earlier. Twelve-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) has been left in the custody of his Jewish grandfather when his parents are forced into exile – "vacation" – for their political beliefs. The grandfather dies, and the boy tries to lose himself in the soccermania that grips the country. (This was, after all, the heyday of Pelé and Tostão.) Writer-director Cao Hamburger works well with child actors and has a spare, unforced style. But too much of this film is desultory and thin. Grade: B– – Peter Rainer

The Spiderwick Chronicles (PG)

Director: Mark Waters. With Freddie Highmore, David Straithairn, Mary-Louise Parker. (97 min.)

Not that we need another potential fantasy franchise, but "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is decidedly better than most. Based on the children's books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, it's an imaginative escapade with rapturous cinematography (by Caleb Deschanel) and first-rate special effects. Freddie Highmore, in a double role as twin brothers, is the junior mastermind who moves with his teenage sister (Sarah Bolger) and mother (Mary-Louise Parker) into an evacuated Victorian mansion once belonging to a great-great-uncle (David Strathairn) who secretly documented the lives of fairies and ogres – and then vanished. Director Mark Waters does a fine job meshing the fantastical with the quotidian. Joan Plowright has a marvelous cameo as an aunt in a sanitarium. Lesson for today: Ogres hate tomato sauce. Grade: A– – P.R.

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